Republican U.S. Senate candidate Chuck DeVore made sure that the June 8 ballot described him as "Assemblyman/Military Reservist" because, the Irvine lawmaker said, he didn't want to be mistaken for just another politician.
The remark reflected his effort to portray himself as an outsider in California politics — albeit one in sync with both the Republican faithful and the "tea party" protesters who have fanned voter disdain for officials in Washington and Sacramento.
"What I have is a solid public record of conservative credentials, whether in office, in the community, or in the uniform of the United States Army," DeVore, 48, said during a recent debate with his opponents or the GOP nomination to challenge incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer in the fall.
Throughout the campaign, DeVore has emphasized his service as a military officer and a young Reagan White House appointee at the Pentagon as experiences that helped make him the most qualified candidate. But at times he appears to have overstated those accomplishments, particularly his experience under fire and his role in the development of a U.S.-Israeli anti-ballistic-missile defense program. He also has faced criticism for acting on behalf of a group with ties to political contributors.
A cornerstone of DeVore's Senate bid is his 24 years in the California National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve, which he argues has given him national security expertise lacked by his better-known, better-funded GOP rivals; former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and former Rep. Tom Campbell. He trails both in polls.
During a radio debate with them in early March, DeVore talked of being the sole candidate in the Senate race with military experience. "I'm a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence within the U.S. Army," he said. His campaign material shows he's a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army retired reserves.
DeVore said both references are accurate because the retired reserves are part of the Army: "My nameplate says U.S. Army."
He spoke during the debate of being "shot at in Lebanon" but did not make clear that the shooting occurred in the 1980s while DeVore was a college student studying Arabic and other subjects in the Middle East. Nor did he note that while the shooting was in his vicinity, there was no indication he was a target or was in actual danger.
DeVore said in a later interview that he was a credentialed reporter for the Orange County Register when the shooting occurred. He said he had called the Israeli military requesting to see the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon — identifying himself as an American student studying in Egypt, a reporter and member of the U.S. Army Reserve — and was included in a media tour.
"The Syrians shot at us and kind of drove us off the hill, because they didn't want press over there. It was like warning shots," said DeVore, adding that he and the Israeli soldiers immediately took cover.
DeVore mentioned that former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick was among the journalists on the tour. Zelnick said the group climbed an observation tower in Israeli-occupied Lebanese territory, from which the Bekaa Valley could be seen. He recalls the Israeli troops taunting the Syrians, who fired shots in response. But Zelnick said they were out of range and that Israeli journalists present had publicly teased him for reacting to the gunshots. "Nothing I saw or experienced could reasonably be interpreted as our having been driven off the hill by Syrian fire," he said.
Frank Dowse, a Fiorina supporter and a retired 20-year Marine veteran from San Diego who served as a top advisor to NATO, said any attempt by DeVore — subtle or not — to imply that the Lebanon incident was related to his military service "is a bad move."
"Those are the kinds of things that will turn veterans off immediately," said Dowse, president of the security consulting firm Agemus Group in San Diego.
In the interview, DeVore readily acknowledged that he never served in combat. He said it was "just the luck of the draw'' that his National Guard units were not called into action during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I was in a combat unit, but most of my career I was in a unit that was focused on the Korean Peninsula,'' DeVore said. "The fact is, I enlisted in 1983, and I always went where the National Guard or reserves asked me to go."
DeVore said he was "shot at" only once in his military career; during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. His National Guard unit was deployed near Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and, while the troops were on patrol, a gunshot blew out the window of a car about 20 feet away.
"We didn't know whether it was a stray round, whether it was a sniper," DeVore said.
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